Tonight I find myself in the Peace Corps Medical Unit after undergoing a serious operation. I had to be brought to the hospital so that a surgeon could save my limb from a very grave injury. I had an ingrown toenail.
Back in the States where it is cold most of the year and CVS is open 24 hours a day, an ingrown toenail isn’t such a big deal. But in Mali, where I walk or bike anywhere I go in open-toed sandals and sand and dirt and dust is flying everywhere and by the end of each day my feet are caked in a brand new layer of filth, an open sore is an invitation to the African continent’s mighty bacteria. Here infections get really nasty really quick.
To illustrate how much more severe the simple flesh wound becomes in the tropical climate, a fellow Volunteer recently had a whitehead on her upper lip and so she popped it – the next day, the broken skin gave way to such a ghastly infection that her lip swelled up to the size of her nose.
When I had realized that part of my big toenail was protruding under my skin, I first thought that it was nothing that I couldn’t treat myself with my pocketknife, tweezers, bacitracin and time. But after a week had gone by and I was limping around village with my big toe wrapped in duct tape and it got so bad that a withered, pigeon-toed old man told me that I was walking funny, I decided that it was time to get on the next van to the Peace Corps Medical Officers.
The whole procedure went rather quickly. Within the span of 90 minutes Dr. Dawn Camara drove me to the podiatrist where they laid me on a bed, washed my foot with iodine, and then they stuck a needle in my swollen big toe and it hurt like a bitch because they were juicing it with anesthesia and the podiatrist told me to look away because I couldn’t feel a thing and snip snip snip there was a little bloody mess but they cleaned it up, stitched my toe back together and wrapped it up in gauze et ça, c’était fini!
With everything said and done, I have nothing but glowing reviews for the health care provided to Peace Corps Volunteers. Even though I am in one of the most remote, undeveloped countries in the world, my doctor did a damn good job of saving my big toe from becoming gangrenous and getting amputated. And the best thing about this treatment is that I don’t have to pay a cent out of pocket because – though the operation was carried out by a private, top-rate Malian podiatrist – my health care and all of my medications are subsidized 100 percent by the United States government.
The moral of the story is that if the United States government can provide me with such good health care in Mali, without sacrificing value of service and without me having to wait on any lines, then I think that the United States government can very easily provide health care of a comparable quality to each and every one of her citizens on American soil. Also, especially if you are living in the African bush, never ever cut your toenails too short or you will be sorry.
PS. This is why I am in Bamako and will have regular Internet access for the week. If you arrange a time, I can go to the bar and talk to you on instant messenger!
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